There were 28 out of the 31 players in camp, with just the overseas trio of Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Steven Kitshoff missing – they will be in Cape Town five days before the June 11 opener against Ireland at Newlands.
Wing Bryan Habana may have been another overseas-based player in the squad, but Coetzee explained that he was unavailable as SA Rugby had an agreement with French club Toulon, where Habana was released from club duty for two sevens tournaments for the Blitzboks in Las Vegas and Vancouver in March, in exchange for his presence in the French Top 14 playoffs in June.
But the coach said that Habana – who will turn 33 in June and has scored a Bok record 64 tries in 117 Tests – will be available for the Rugby Championship, which starts in August.
Most of the local players are “still stiff and sore” from having played Super Rugby on Saturday, according to Coetzee, who went to greet them at the airport, but there are no serious injury concerns.
But there is some real competition for places in the match-23 for the first Test against Ireland, with the likely back-up to Adriaan Strauss at hooker one such situation. Stormers duo Scarra Ntubeni and Bongi Mbonambi both made the Bok cut, with the Lions’ in-form pair of Malcolm Marx and Akker van der Merwe missing out.
Marx was included in the SA A squad that will face the England Saxons in June, with Southern Kings No 2 Edgar Marutlulle – who has also been in excellent form – the other hooker.
Coetzee, though, said that the 21-year-old Marx will have to bide his time. “Marx is an unbelievable player, and I have no doubt that he will become a Springbok one day. But we are quick to build something, and we just break it up and throw it away. When Scarra had the opportunity (under Heyneke Meyer) – he didn’t have the opportunity really (having not won a Test cap) – he played superb rugby for a number of years,” the coach said on Sunday.
“And so is Bongi, he’s been there for a number of years. And I don’t say that Malcolm doesn’t warrant being in the Bok squad. But we need to reward players also for not just doing it in a once-off season – they’ve been consistently performing well. And one has got to reward that.
“I’m just happy Malcolm will be in the SA A side and must continue the way he is playing. There are other players who fall into the same category who aren’t even in the A side. They must just be prepared and ready to make the step up when called upon.”
The Boks will have their first field session on Monday afternoon, but Coetzee said that the team management “won’t be stupid as the guys come off 12 or 13 weeks of Super Rugby and they played yesterday”.
Original source: Coetzee: Bok reward for Scarra, Bongi